It’s been a big couple of weeks for changes and challenges here in the States. I’ve spent some time reassuring some old friends that their marriages are still valid, despite what the Supremes said, and we don’t all have to marry same-sex partners if we don’t want to. And as for that other Supreme Court thing about Obamacare (liberally construing the meaning of the word “state”), well, fans of the Moops will be pretty upset for a while. With each of these, I have as many friends who were ecstatic as those who were furious. On top of all that, violence continues unabated here and abroad; terrible murders and we’re divided about flags, guns and history itself. Overseas, ISIS surges with vicious intensity challenging our church-thoughts of loving our neighbor, and Ukraine struggles in bloody spasms as if being slowly swallowed by a giant bear.

Greeks chanting slogans

A choir? People imitating baby birds waiting to be fed? No, neither one. Greeks chant slogans during an anti-austerity rally in Athens, June 2015.

Our colorful, elderly but fun-loving old friend Greece is headed for yet another tottering run at a financial cliff. (Photo credit:, 5 things you need to know about Greece’s financial meltdown) I think of the situation there in connection with neighboring Bulgaria, where as we know the people have learned over the ages to live with very little. Even now, since joining the EU in 2007, Bulgarians live a mostly self-sustaining, frugal and spare lifestyle, working hard, helping friends, and wasting little. My friend Joe Herr pointed out an article that says it well: Greece’s Troubles Attract Little Sympathy From Poorer Neighbors. Most Bulgarians look at the levels of pensions and government benefits, for example, and think, “Hey, you’re complaining? Are you kidding, you want us to bail you out? Suck it up, Greece!”

Campfire sparks and stars

Watching campfire sparks melt into the stars.
Photo: Jason McDonald

But it’s summer! School’s out! I remember the feeling of absolute freedom in the first days of summer vacation, feeling that I could jump and run and almost really fly. Or playing tag and hide-and-seek until dark with my brother and cousins and the beads of sweat in the humid night starting to cool around my neck and on flushed cheeks and I could glory in the whisper of an evening breeze, slowing. Quiet murmurs and wows with friends looking at stars, or sometimes on a cool night watching flying embers and ash sparks from a campfire swirl up to join the sparkling diamonds in the black brilliant sky. Sometimes I think these are the things that matter more than what’s in the news, and sometimes I’m not sure.


What else do we have? Straining, sometimes, to feed and clothe and protect our families and ourselves it can be hard to keep a sense of perspective on what’s important. In the abstract, of course, if we can recognize and treasure enough good moments that would make a good life. I can say with more irony than understatement, there’s probably more to it than that. Still, to recognize and be grateful for the precious moments in our lives is a blessing.

Let me tell you about one of those, one of the moments that I keep in a special place. It was while I was teaching an English literature class in Bulgaria, and there was a student who hardly ever said a word…

One Golden Moment

There was one golden moment I remember.
        Not the only one
                but it was one.

She sat, petrified,
struggling to find the answer hiding in the fragile English part
of her mind.

Even the sound of her classmates
        whispering whispering answers
would not bring it out.

The room whish-whished with bee-buzzing answers swarming, swirling, reckless.
        “Because he had money!”
                “He was a lawyer.”
                        “He let Scout do what she wanted!”

Shush. Let her tell me. She wants to tell me.
I’m squatted down next to the tired creaking scarred high-school desk,
a feat for old bones but this needs to be
                                                                       eye to eye.

“It’s just me here. Tell me.”
She faltered, blushing, looking away, looking at the floor.
Her English words
                and mutely shivered
and would not move.

Her strong confident Bulgarian mind was yelling silently,
“Leave me alone! Ask the others!! They’re dying to tell you!”

As if to wish me away she looked up, still afraid but now eye to eye.

“You can tell me. Just me.”

“He was a good man. Atticus was a good father because he was a good man.”

One golden moment I remember.
        Not the only one
                but it was one.

Heavenly Thoughts

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven: A Remarkable Account of Miracles, Angels, and Life Beyond This World

I read Heaven Is for Real, the book that’s sometimes confused with the one pictured here, for a book club. Then I found The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven and read it too, to add to the book club discussion. I finished it the day before the meeting, which was the same day the publisher announced that it was all made up. The young boy had admitted he just liked the attention, and his dad/co-author Kevin Malarkey “elaborated” on his son’s stories of shining and brilliantly colored scenery and beings, with fluffy clouds and feathers and gold all around. The boy and his mom, regretting the deception, had been trying to recant for a long time. No one would listen. People who had invested their belief into it didn’t want to give that up. Finally, probably fearing legal action with a made-up story being sold as true, the publisher issued a statement that they had been hoodwinked and recalled the book.

Sigh of relief. Maybe, just maybe, fewer people will be taken in by the perpetuation of this kind of myth and fantasy. The boy in the other book, Heaven Is for Real (recently made into a movie) is sticking to his story. For those who want to believe the currently popular mythological view of heaven (not that there’s anything wrong with that) Heaven Is for Real holds together a lot better. The dad/co-author (Todd Burpo) goes to some lengths to show that his son, as the heaven visitor, was not guided by leading questions. But this one, The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven — pfft! Dare I say it? (Even though it’s hardly original, how can I resist?) Malarkey!

Stormy and I have experienced a run of deaths near us lately. A dear neighbor from our California days, then in quick succession a fellow chorister we were close with, a book club member whose love we shared, an elder cousin of mine, and a close church friend of Stormy’s all within a week. That long week was within the near shadow of the passing of Stormy’s dad and all the adjustments and changes the family is going through from that. People we know comfort each other by speaking of being “in a better place” and the thought that the departed will greet their loved ones and that we will see them again too.

I do like the thought of a heaven — who doesn’t, one way or another? I like the thought that it is all around us but some limitation prevents us from seeing it. Perhaps I should say prevents our bodies from seeing it. Theologies have been built, wars fought, and lives dedicated or squandered, all on speculating about how that limitation can or will be overcome. If physicists and cosmologists deal in string theory to conceive of parallel universes or a multiverse, and if there may be something to out-of-body or past life experiences — even if those are all within the mind of the believer (is there anything that is not thus?) — the idea of another existence constructed in other dimensions isn’t far removed. It could be true. It could be here.

I recall a favorite moment on a bright spring day, in our adopted “hometown” of Panagyurishte, Bulgaria, in the little courtyard of a café.

Resting quietly there with friends, listening to the birds and with all the trees in their new spring clothes, I remarked that it was like a little bit of paradise. Krassi told us the story of how the Bulgarians got their land…

When God made the world, He made places for all the people, or at least He meant to. The Bulgarians tugged at His sleeve and asked, “Did You forget us?” God actually had overlooked the Bulgarians but did not want to admit it, so He gave them a piece of heaven He had been saving for Himself, and said it had been made for them.

Breeze, p. 168

Thinking that heaven is all around us, right where we are, doesn’t preclude there being what is called in eulogies a “greater yet-to-be.” Some believe it’s where we came from, and the state to which we will return. Some believe it’s a process repeating over and over, to infinity. Eternity. The idea that I am not a body that has a soul, but a soul that has a body, turns the question upside down and places my existence in that higher context. The Christian Bible asserts that “Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor 2:9) That doesn’t tell us where that place (calling it a place for convenience, bear with me) might be. I believe, though, that we are a part of it, and that no one can tell us about it.

When we get the slightest glimpse of it, like on a bright spring day with a good friend in the sun-dappled cool courtyard of a café, or on a mountaintop, or hearing a loved one breathe, it is a memory worth holding.

The first bit of this post is from a book review. If it interests you, I have more book reviews. Books with reviews are annotated “with text.”

Four Reasons Why You Should NOT Hire a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer

Meanwhile, back in the States, I know some good people looking for meaningful work. But be careful…

(Reblogging an article originally posted by GirlFawkes in Adventures)

Yes, you read that right: should not. Peace Corps used to have a saying: “At Peace Corps we are practical idealists.” Those kind of crazy ideas make Returned Peace Corps Volunteers terrible employees. Here are a few reasons why hiring a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer will ruin your business.

1. Returned Peace Corps Volunteers (RPCVs) question the status quo. Business as usual is exactly what a PCV is trained to rebel against. We are indoctrinated to look for the status quo and squash it. The status quo is what keeps developing countries from developing. Let’s keep farming the exact same way we’ve done it for hundreds of years, if it has worked that long, it can’t be wrong, right? False. Cashew farmers in Ghana were just given cashew trees when the great drought of the 1980s destroyed all the cocoa. They’ve continued farming the same way, because it works. But…

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